Americans are now the fattest people on the planet. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 51% of Americans were overweight with 23% of them dangerously so. We don’t have hard data for companion animals in the U.S. but one recent article estimated from small animal veterinarians surveyed that at least 40% of their patients were overweight with 19% of those considered obese.

How can you tell if your animal is overweight? EASY. Can you feel (palpate) the ribs easily without them being visible? When viewed from the top is there an indentation or noticeable tuck or waist behind the last rib? From the side, does the abdomen tuck up behind the last rib or does the belly drop and protrude down? Is there a heavy pad of fat covering the ribs, does he have “saddle-bags” at the waist and a big fat pad at the base of the tail? This method, gauging the amount of cover over the ribs, noting a demonstrable waist when viewed from the top, and a tucked up abdomen when viewed from the side is the “body condition system” of scoring used by veterinarians.

Being overweight is not just cosmetic. Carrying additional weight above the ideal for the animal brings many potential health problems. Extra pounds are harder on joints, overweight animals have more orthopedic problems and develop arthritis earlier. Overweight animals commonly develop heart disease, high blood pressure and a number of related cardiovascular conditions. In pets and in people, there is a direct link between obesity and the development of diabetes mellitus. In addition, unfit, out of shape animals are more at risk for liver disease, kidney problems, and some forms of cancer. So a very real number of serious health issues can stem directly from being too heavy.

What can you do? Well, exercise is definitely a part of the equation. We have taken dogs and cats, carnivorous, hunter-predators and made them couch potatoes. If you will keep track for one week, I think that you will be amazed how little exercise your animal gets. Step it up! Spend more time with your animal – ear mark time for play, exercise, and “face-time”. You both will benefit from this time together. The other side of the coin is diet. Everything your animal puts in his or her mouth depends on what you give them. They are totally dependent on you for their caloric intake. There is only one constant; “we have to burn off more than we put in the cooker.” Try measuring the amount of food you give with a measuring cup (not a beer stein used as a scoop!). Talk to your veterinarian about selecting a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s age, activity, and underlying medical condition. Watch treats and people food. For one week count the number of treats and non-main ration items your dog or cat eats. I think that you will be amazed. Cut down on the number of treats by breaking them into halves or even fourths. Dogs don’t care about how much the treat is, they only care about how many they get. Try some healthy treats. Green beans and baby carrots can be used for most dogs. I use ice cubes with my dog “Yoda”. He loves them and they don’t add to his waist-line.

Your dog or cat depends on you for good judgment. Part of that means providing a nutritious, healthy diet and regular exercise. Your veterinarian is as far away as the telephone and can help you come up with a sound diet for your animal and some recommendations concerning exercise. Being fit will keep your pet healthier and help them enjoy life more. It will also help you enjoy them more. Now stop reading this and go play with your friend!

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